Who is actively fighting to ensure government policies shutter U.S. nuclear energy facilities; keep domestic coal, natural gas, and oil in the ground; force up energy prices through taxes and regulations; and endanger national security by installing wind farms near military bases? If you answered, “the Sierra Club and its allies,” you’re correct, though you might be surprised to find that one of the latter is the Russian government.
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently issued a report detailing attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy markets through social media. Russian operatives encouraged protests to block pipeline construction and prevent new oil and gas extraction projects, among other activities.
“The Kremlin manipulated various groups in an attempt to carry out its geopolitical agenda, particularly with respect to domestic energy policy,” the report stated.
The growth in U.S. energy production threatens Russia’s geopolitical influence and economic strength. In the past decade, fracking and improved delivery infrastructure such as expanded pipelines and new natural gas export terminals have rapidly increased U.S. energy production, putting downward pressure on global energy prices. In response, the Russian government carried out a concerted campaign to disrupt U.S. energy markets by fomenting fears of fossil fuels causing catastrophic climate change.
Sifting through thousands of documents from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, committee staff identified Russian accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Saint Petersburg-based company established by the Russian government. IRA used social and traditional media platforms to advance Russian propaganda and viewpoints, the report states.
Between 2015 and 2017, IRA created 4,334 accounts across Twitter and Facebook, producing 9,097 posts or tweets on U.S. energy policy or energy-related events, the analysts estimate. Dozens of posts encouraged Americans to protest pipeline construction, especially targeting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Russian government funneled money through surrogates to U.S. environmental organizations to fund attacks on the fossil fuel industry, the report states. “This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market,” said committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in a written statement. “Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking, and climate change.”
This is not the first time experts have noted attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy markets, the report states.
“In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that contained ‘clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States,’” the committee report notes. “The report found that the Russian-sponsored news agency RT (formerly Russia Today) ‘r[an] anti-fracking programing, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health,’ which ‘is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and the U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to [Russian energy companies’] profitability.’”
Russia also undermined oil and gas development in Europe. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then Secretary General of NATO, told reporters in 2014, “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.”
Russia has been trying to manipulate U.S. and European energy markets for decades, according to a report released earlier this year by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). The Cardin report referred to many environmental activist groups as “useful idiots,” documenting “the Russian government has invested $95 million in [Non-Governmental Organizations] that seek to persuade EU governments to end shale gas exploration” and “campaign against fracking for natural gas, thereby keeping the EU more dependent on Russian supplies.”
Physicist John Droz, founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, says Russian and domestic anti-fossil fuel efforts indicate a mutual hostility toward American prosperity, though the Russians at least want to benefit their own nation.
“Fossil fuel exports account for around 16 percent of Russian GDP, 52 percent of government revenue and 70 percent of Russian exports, so it makes sense that Russian propaganda efforts would be focused on protecting their fragile economy,” Droz said.
This is the real Russian scandal the media should be covering, not the fake-news Trump collusion myth. Most of the mainstream media in the United States are serving Russia’s interests by turning a blind eye to that nation’s meddling in America’s energy policies. The media are supposed to be part of the Fourth Estate, not the Deep State.
Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.